Linda Linsefors

@ AI Safety Camp
1849 karmaJoined Dec 2018London, UK


Hi, I am a Physicist, Effective Altruist and AI safety student/researcher/organiser
Resume - Linda Linsefors - Google Docs


Topic contributions

I'm updating the AI Safety Support - Lots of Links page, and came across this post when following trails of potentially useful links. 

Are you still doing coaching, and if "yes" do you want to be listed on the lots of links page?

For what it's worth, I think it was good that Thomas brought this up so that we could respond. 

I'm guessing that what Marius means by "AISC is probably about ~50x cheaper than MATS" is that AISC is probably ~50x cheaper per participant than MATS.

Our cost per participant is $0.6k - $3k USD

50 times this would be 30k - 150k per participant. 
I'm guessing that MATS is around 50k per person (including stipends).

Here's where the $12k-$30k USD comes from:

Dollar cost per new researcher produced by AISC

  • The organizers have proposed $60–300K per year in expenses. 
  • The number of non-RL participants of programs have increased from 32 (AISC4) to 130  (AISC9). Let’s assume roughly 100 participants in the program per year given the proposed size of new camps.
  • Researchers are produced at a rate of 5–10%.

Optimistic estimate: $60K / (10% * 100) = $6K per new researcher

Middle estimate 1: $60K / (5% * 100) = $12K per new researcher

Middle estimate 2: $300K / (10% * 100) = $30K per new researcher

Pessimistic estimate: $300K / (5% * 100) = $60K per new researcher

5. Overall, I think AISC is less impactful than e.g. MATS even without normalizing for participants. Nevertheless, AISC is probably about ~50x cheaper than MATS. So when taking cost into account, it feels clearly impactful enough to continue the project. I think the resulting projects are lower quality but the people are also more junior, so it feels more like an early educational program than e.g. MATS. 

This seems correct to me. MATS is investing a lot in few people. AISC is investing a little in many people. 

Also agreement on all the other points. 

From Lucius Bushnaq:

I was the private donor who gave €5K. My reaction to hearing that AISC was not getting funding was that this seemed insane. The iteration I was in two years ago was fantastic for me, and the research project I got started on there is basically still continuing at Apollo now. Without AISC, I think there's a good chance I would never have become an AI notkilleveryoneism researcher. 

Full comment here: This might be the last AI Safety Camp — LessWrong

Thanks for this comment. To me this highlights how AISC is very much not like MATS. We're very different programs doing very different things. MATS and AISC are both AI safety upskilling programs, but we are using different resources to help different people with different aspects of their journey. 

I can't say where AISC falls in the talent pipeline model, because that's not how the world actually work. 

AISC participants have obviously heard about AI safety, since they would not have found us otherwise. But other than that, people are all over the place in where they are on their journey, and that's ok. This is actually more a help than a hindrance for AISC projects. Some people have participate in more than one AISC. One of last years research leads are a participants in one of this years projects. This don't mean they are moving backwards in their journey, this is them lending their expertise to a project that could use it.

So, the appropriate counterfactual for MATS and similar programs seems to be, "Junior researchers apply for funding and move to a research hub, hoping that a mentor responds to their emails, while orgs still struggle to scale even with extra cash."

This seems correct to me for MATS, and even if I disagreed you should trust Ryan over me. However this is very much not a correct counterfactual for AISC.

If all MATS' money instead went to the LTFF to support further independent researchers, I believe that substantially less impact would be generated. 

This seems correct. I don't know exactly the cost of MATS, but assuming the majority of the cost is stipends, then giving this money to MATS scrollas with all the MATS support seems just straight up better, even with some overhead cost for the organisers.

I'm less sure about how MATS compare to funding researchers in lower cost locations than SF Bay and London. 

I believe the most taut constraint on producing more AIS researchers is generally training/mentorship, not money.

I'm not so sure about this, but if true then this is an argument for funnelling more money to both MATS and AISC and other upskilling programs. 

Some of the researchers who passed through AISC later did MATS. Similarly, several researchers who did MLAB or REMIX later did MATS. It's often hard to appropriately attribute Shapley value to elements of the pipeline, so I recommend assessing orgs addressing different components of the pipeline by how well they achieve their role, and distributing funds between elements of the pipeline based on how much each is constraining the flow of new talent to later sections (anchored by elasticity to funding). For example, I believe that MATS and AISC should be assessed by their effectiveness (including cost, speedup, and mentor time) at converting "informed talent" (i.e., understands the scope of the problem) into "empowered talent" (i.e., can iterate on solutions and attract funding/get hired). 

I agree that it's hard to attribute value when someone done more than one program. They way we asked Arb to adress this is by just asking people. This will be in their second report. I also don't know the result of this yet.

I don't think programs should be evaluated based on how well they achieve their role in the pipeline, since I reject this framework.

This said, MATS aims to advertise better towards established academics and software engineers, which might bypass the pipeline in the diagram above. Side note: I believe that converting "unknown talent" into "informed talent" is generally much cheaper than converting "informed talent" into "empowered talent."

We already have some established academics and software engineers joining AISC. Being a part-time online program is very helfull for being able to include people who have jobs, but would like to try out some AI safety research on the side. This is one of several ways AISC is complementary to MATS, and not a competitor. 

Several MATS mentors (e.g., Neel Nanda) credit the program for helping them develop as research leads. Similarly, several MATS alumni have credited AISC (and SPAR) for helping them develop as research leads, similar to the way some Postdocs or PhDs take on supervisory roles on the way to Professorship. I believe the "carrying capacity" of the AI safety research field is largely bottlenecked on good research leads (i.e., who can scope and lead useful AIS research projects), especially given how many competent software engineers are flooding into AIS. It seems a mistake not to account for this source of impact in this review.

Thanks. This is something I'm very proud of as an organiser. Although I was not an organiser the year Neal Nanda was a mentor, I've heard this type of feedback from several of the research leads from the last cohort.

This is another way AISC is not like MATS. AISC has a much lower bar for research leads than MATS has for their mentors, which has several down stream effects on how we organise our programs.

MATS has very few, well known, top talent mentors. This means that for them, the time of the mentors is a very limited resource, and everything else is organised around this constraint.

AISC has a lower bar for our research leads, which means we have many more of them, letting up run a much bigger program. This is how AISC is so scalable. On the other hand we have some research leads learning-by-doing, along with everyone else, which creates some potential problems. AISC is structured around addressing this, and it seem to be working.

I don't like this funnel model, or any other funnel model I've seen. It's not wrong exactly, but it misses so much, that it's often more harmfull than helpful. 

For example:

  • If you actually talk to people their story is not this linear, and that is important. 
  • The picture make it looks like AISC, MATS, etc are interchangeable, or just different quality versions of the same thing. This is very far from the truth. 

I don't have a nice looking replacement for the funnel. If had a nice clean model like this, it would probably be as bad. The real world is just very messy.

We have reached out to them and gotten some donations. 

  • All but 2 of the papers listed on Manifund as coming from AISC projects are from 2021 or earlier. Because I'm interested in the current quality in the presence of competing programs, I looked at the two from 2022 or later: this in a second-tier journal and this in a NeurIPS workshop, with no top conference papers. I count 52 participants in the last AISC so this seems like a pretty poor rate, especially given that 2022 and 2023 cohorts (#7 and #8) could both have published by now.
  • [...] They also use the number of AI alignment researchers created as an important metric. But impact is heavy-tailed, so the better metric is value of total research produced. Because there seems to be little direct research, to estimate the impact we should count the research that AISC alums from the last two years go on to produce. Unfortunately I don't have time to do this.

That list of papers is for direct research output of AISC. Many of our alumni have lots of publications not on that list. 

For example, I looked up Marius Hobbhahn - Google Scholar

Just looking at the direct project outputs is not a good metric for evaluating AISC since most of the value comes from the upskilling. Counting the research that AISC alumns have done since AISC, is not a bad idea, but as you say, a lot more work, I imagine this is partly why Arb chose to do it the way they did. 

I agree that heavy tailed-ness in research output is an important considerations. AISC do have some very successful alumni. If we didn't this would be a major strike against AISC. The thing I'm less certain of is to what extent these people would have succeeded without AISC. This is obviously a difficult thing to evaluate, but still worth trying. 

Mostly we let Arb decide how to best to their evaluation, but I've specifically asked them to interview our most successful alumni to at least get these peoples estimate of the importance of AISC. The result of this will be presented in their second report.

The impact assessment was commissioned by AISC, not independent.

Here are some evaluations not commissioned by us

If you have suggestions for how AISC can get more people to do more independent evaluations, please let me know.

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